There have been frequent calls in interpretive consumer research to move beyond studies of the family as couples, parent-child/sibling dyads or nuclear family households (Kerrane et al. 2015). Although grandparenting roles and relationships have not been examined in consumption literature in any depth, we argue that including grandparents in the study of intergenerational roles and relationships offers a valuable lens not only on consumption at later stages of the life course (Barnhart & Peñaloza 2013), but also on evolving family identity bundles (Epp & Price 2008), including the negotiation of practices, routines, relationships and norms within social networks (Ehn and Löfgren 2009). The aim of this network is to advance research by exploring the being and doing of grandparenting and grandchilding in the Western world in a cross-cultural perspective.
Whereas being elderly often carries negative images in contemporary Western society, being a grandparent has positive associations and can be an important identity element (Harwood 2009). Although grandparents are not a homogenous group, in terms of age, health, financial and other circumstances, many devote time and resources to their children and grandchildren, providing child care, consumer goods, gifts, holidays, etc. (Brembeck et al., 2010; Kastarinen, forthcoming; Marchant 2016). The older generation has changed, and as documented in the childhood consumption literature, similarly the child as the other ‘book end’ of the generations has come to be perceived in new ways (Marshall 2010; Buckingham 2011; Herlofson & Hagesad 2012). The child is seen as a far more competent actor in his/her life, much more engaged in social relations, social norms and in consumption than previously assumed (Brembeck et al. 2004; Johansson, 2005; Sparrman et al., 2012; Gram, 2015; Gram & Grønhøj, 2016). The grandparent/grandchild relationship ‘cannot be understood as independent of or isolated from other family relationships but are embedded in a complex family network’ (Mahn & Huxhold 2010: 238). Grandparents involved in childcare may find themselves trying to balance ‘non-interference’ and ‘obligation’ as they try to support their adult child, their grandchildren and relationships with other grandparents in their grandchildren’s lives (May et al. 2012). This may also create tensions as grandparents protect their own time and freedom as they enjoy increasing longevity and financial independence, meaning that they are not necessarily ‘waiting in the wings’ to support their adult children (Timonen & Arber 2012: 11). Additionally, new and more fluid family patterns, including the rise of blended families following death, divorce or separation, means that intergenerational relationships are based on biological and non-biological ties, and during the process of blending, diverse family histories and ways of being and doing family (deVault, 1991; Finch, 2007) may evolve or come into conflict.
The network seminars will take their point of departure in the theoretical and methodological gaps in the research literature on family consumption and intergenerational relationships. The contribution of the network seminars will be to offer empirical knowledge, theory and methodological development in the field of grandparent/grandchild roles and relationships within the family across several generations and develop tools to encounter the methodological challenges and questions related to including grandparents and grandchildren in interpretive consumer research.
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